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Divorce may be in my near future. Is it standard procedure for all of a couple's financial assets to be divided 50-50?


It's not standard procedure at all. In fact, only about 20 percent of states divide marital assets based on the notion of "community property," where everything acquired during a marriage is split down the middle in a divorce. The guiding principle in the remaining states is "equitable distribution," in which, barring a prenuptial agreement or some similar contract between husband and wife, a court will apportion assets based on what the judge deems fair. It is important under both systems to be able to prove what assets exist - some may have been hidden in anticipation of the divorce filing - and also what debts may have been built up. Those will be divided too.

Divorces are likely to be more complicated in equitable distribution states than in community property states. The judge using equitable distribution guidelines generally will consider such criteria as how long a marriage has lasted, the comparative earnings of the two parties, how much wealth they brought into the marriage and whether there will be disproportionate responsibility in raising children. As hard as the judge tries to get it right, though, while the principle is called "equitable distribution," there's a good chance that one member of the splitting couple will call it something else.
-Conrad de Aenlle